By Carolyn Ali
Ever tried jellyfish, sturgeon liver, or smelt? What about gooseneck barnacles, sea cucumber, or whelks? (Perhaps you’re wrinkling your nose right about now and wondering,”What the heck is a whelk?
Blue Water Cafe features these and other under-appreciated sea creatures throughout February during the restaurant’s Unsung Heroes festival. The month-long event promotes sustainable seafood by urging diners to try something a little (or a lot) different from what they’re accustomed to eating.
The idea is to bring awareness to local and unique seafood and to avoid species that are over-fished or harvested in ways that can damage ocean beds. It’s a goal also promoted by the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise conservation program, of which Blue Water Cafe is a founding member.
Don’t worry: you don’t have to finish your plate or forgo the salmon you know you’ll love.
Octopus is an easy place to start. If you’ve tried it before and believe it to be rubbery, that’s because it was probably served overcooked. Blue Water Cafe does it right; in the 2015 festival they served it grilled tender and with a chickpea panisse, smoked olives, marinated eggplant, and tomato sauce with kurobuta pork.
Sea urchin is a bit more challenging for timid tastes, but those who love it adore its creamy texture. On the menu in 2015 was sea urchin mousse with calamari crackers and a citrusy ponzu jelly.
And that whelk that chef Pabst is eyeing in the opening photo? Whelks are sea snails. Think of them as French escargot, and you can probably imagine how good they taste.
Pabst cooks his whelks “escargots-style” in garlic butter with parsley and nori seaweed. This year, he’s also cooking gooseneck barnacles with saffron aioli and a seaweed salad with a soy mirin dressing.
If you can’t imagine what barnacles taste like, well…there’s only one way to find out – every February.